It is already mid to late afternoon as we arrive but the sun counters the slight breeze to warm us. Carrying minimal gear, we hold hands all the way to the end of the floating dock. My companion is short in stature but enthusiastic. Surging with bravery while firmly grasping my hand, she steps confidently over the spaces between dock sections. Each of us wears a faded red baseball cap to shade our eyes and contain matching blonde hair. She’s chosen one of my two favorite caps to wear. The adjustable, hat looks especially cute on her and we somewhat match from head to toe. A neon-colored personal flotation device (life jacket), jeans and sneakers completes her look. The bait store isn’t stocking sand worms yet so each of our hooks has a plastic worm dangling as we walk.
I cast the miniature pink rod so the bait drops into the gently moving water under the railroad bridge. I hope the moving water will contain some of the fish I saw here last week. Coaxing the slow reel in, my little fishing buddy stands alert and focused. Because I’m not really expecting anything to nibble on our plastic worms, my pockets hold neither a hook removal tool nor extra “bait”. I really don’t know what I’ll do if a fish bites onto the hook today as they have a tendency to bite the hand that both hurts and frees them. More fish should arrive in the coming weeks as the water warms up.
My long, sleek fishing pole is stashed safely on my docked boat so I cast awkwardly with a new Pocket Fisherman. Yes, they still make the impossibly-compact toy from the 1970’s commercials where a grown man catches a big fish with it. The go-anywhere gift from my husband is designed to be a back-up for when I really want to fish but am without favorite gear. I’m hoping the short unit will work from within a kayak when I’m meandering down the Mystic River or through Bluff Point. How could I not be crazy in love with a man who indulges my ridiculous whims by surprising me with such a fun gift? Though the misnamed P.F. wouldn’t ever fit in a pocket, it does notch onto the waistband of jeans, leaving the hands free to carry gear or lunch. Unlike my regular pole which extends the full length of my station wagon interior, the P.F. takes up very little space. In the event of a survival emergency, I will save the day by catching dinner.
After a few tries, it casts out about 40 feet and I’m satisfied with the results even though the $10 children’s rod casts 50% farther with more ease. My fishing buddy has finished reeling in her line so I trade fishing poles. I keep casting and she keeps reeling in. We catch globs of early season seaweed which I carefully remove while explaining how terribly sharp the little barbs are. Gently placing the pocket fisherman on the dock allows the treble (3-pronged) hook to drop between cracks. Several minutes of careful and creative maneuvering has me convinced it can’t possibly come back up the way it went down. In frustration, I pull a bit harder and it abruptly pops out, stopping only because my finger is in the way. Now that I have an unintended object lesson, my fishing companion repeats back to me the same words of caution I’ve just shared with her. I’m able to dislodge the tiny, sharp barb and am only bleeding slightly as we decide there really aren’t any fish to be caught. “I’ll bet this is more fun when there are fish”, she says with a slight frown. “We’ll come back when the fish are here”, I reply. “And we’ll go out on the boat to where the fish live.” She nods happily. We’re slightly chilly and our mild afternoon adventure has been just enough for us.
Last summer, our little buddy and her mom came out fishing with us. She didn’t enjoy the bumpy ride out but wasn’t bothered by the constant bobbing motion of the boat while fishing. Grandpa baited the hook with squid and patiently showed her how to hold the rod and wiggle it every once in a while. After just a few minutes of the boat drifting with the current and wind, something grabbed her line and pulled hard. Grandpa quickly caught her and the pole before either careened overboard. Holding onto the pole and encouraging her to reel up the fish allowed her to reel and reel again until we saw a fluke (summer flounder) break the surface. How exciting it is to see the round flat fish with brown color and both eyes on the right side with white color and no eyes on the left side. Its unusual color allows the fish to hide in sand awaiting its prey. A quick photo is taken, the fish is measured then released, unhurt, into the water. Several inches short of the 18” minimum size, it was still a formidable first catch. Our tiny fisherman was elated to hear she caught the fish all the adults around us were trying to catch. Exhausted from the epic battle, she declared herself the best fisherman and ready to go home. In her young mind, she had already mastered this new skill and was done for the day. The only other fish caught on that trip was a small porgy (scup) so maybe she’s right.
This mid-life hobby has prompted development of new skills while producing wonderful memories and delicious meals. Baiting hooks, cleaning and filleting fish are all facets of the same hobby. It may take me a lifetime to fillet as well as those fish counter guys. Fishing licenses are available online or at local bait shops. Fishing gear, and bait are inexpensive. Local bait shops are full of nice folks eager to talk about fishing and provide a bit of advice. I’ve yet to meet a fisherman who wasn’t willing to help me tie on a hook or suggest which bait might work for a particular fish. Some fish, like porgy (scup) are simple to catch with a small piece of squid and are yummy to eat. Each fish has its own preferred habitat, legal season and size. It is important to obtain a fishing license and become familiar with some of the fish you may encounter.
Fishing is both an easy sport for beginners and an intellectual challenge for experienced anglers. Mystic River Park in downtown Mystic is a scenic and accessible fishing spot. Online and paper maps identify boat ramps and potential fishing spots. Every tug on the line is exciting. Sitting quietly with the line in the water provides a chance to slow down and really breathe in the salty air and view. Mystic’s stunning vistas by land and by sea are only improved with a fishing pole in one hand and a cold beverage in the other. Nearby charter boats launch daily to take advantage of the world-class fishing in Long Island Sound and Fisher’s Island Sound.
If you don’t happen to catch dinner, McQuade’s Marketplace (14 Clara Dr. Mystic) provides wonderfully fresh fish and delicious prepared salads and side dishes. Their fish & chips dinners are available to eat there or take home; perfect after a long day of fishing.
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